Our anatomy lab post this month is covering the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly shaped organ that sits at the bottom of your neck (it also looks remarkably like a spaceship when viewed front on…The thyroid gland releases hormones into the blood stream, which travel to all cells in the body. These hormones are responsible for controlling the way our bodies use energy and play a role in many important bodily functions such as breathing, heart and nerve function, muscle strength, body temperature, body weight, the menstrual cycle in women, and much more.
How It Works
Without getting too technical, a special part of the brain tells another part of the brain to tell the thyroid gland to increase or decrease the release of thyroid hormones. There are two main thyroid hormones – T3 and T4. Don’t worry too much about names, but it is interesting to know that your thyroid gland uses iodine from the foods you eat to make these busy hormones.
What Can Go Wrong
There are two main problems that can arise with this gland – having too little or too much T3 and T4. These conditions are called hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism respectively.
Hypothyroidism, i.e. low levels of hormones in the blood, can lead to some very specific signs and symptoms, affecting many of the bodily functions we mentioned earlier. These include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Weight gain
- Feeling colder than others around you
- Muscular aches and pains
- Muscular weakness
- Dry skin and hair
- Slower heart rate
- Heavy periods (in women)
On the flip side, hyperthyroidism may present as:
- Weight loss
- Feeling warmer than others around you
- Increased sweating
- Nervousness, anxiety and agitation
- Tremor or shaking in the hands
- Hair loss
- Faster heart rate and palpitations
- Missed or light periods (in women)
Why Is This Important To An Osteopath?
The simple answer to this question is health. We strive to get our patients into a state of good health and away from disease. The primary reason people visit an osteopath is to rid themselves of pain. Often pain is caused by an injury from an accident or fall, but not all pain can be explained in this way. Sometimes pain develops from other causes. Look back over the symptoms for hypothyroidism and you’ll see ‘muscular aches and pains’. If after questioning and examination we can’t come to an obvious muscular, joint or movement diagnosis, our brains will kick in and look for other avenues. This is where our questioning on other parts of the body will come into play.
Yes, you may have muscular aches, but if you are also showing signs of unexplained weight gain, constipation, dry skin and fatigue, an alarm bell will ring and we may need to consider referring you to your GP for some thyroid tests. You may still have some movement problems we can help with, but you may also need some help from your doctor or a specialist to get your thyroid functioning better.
So, don’t worry if we drop a question about bowel habits or your period when you come in for shoulder pains. There is method to our madness and it’s all to make sure we get you moving towards optimal health as soon as possible. Happy thyroid = happy person!
- Victoria State Government. 2019. Thyroid gland. [Online] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/thyroid-gland. [Accessed 08 October 2019]
- McKinney and Woodman, 2019. Crash Course: Pathology. 5th ed. Elsevier : United Kingdom
- Walsh, JP. 2016. Managing thyroid disease in general practice. Medical Journal of Australia. 205(4). 179-184. Available from: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2016/205/4/managing-thyroid-disease-general-practice